Bestsellers and Bodybuilders – The Pitfalls of Comparison

Text Only Logo“I want to be the next [INSERT NAME OF RICH AND/OR FAMOUS AUTHOR HERE]!” Even if we’ve never vocalized that, many writers have felt that desire in their deepest, darkest of hearts. We see someone’s career skyrocket until they’re a household name and have movie deals galore, or we read a magnificent, soul-shifting piece of prose that has changed millions of people’s lives and we determine that these other authors have it made. They are the culmination of the writing dream, are they not? Why should we settle for anything less?

The side effects of a pursuit of success based on the threshold set by another person is often found in crippling self-doubt, exhausting desperation, bitterness, and a fear of total failure. Eventually, if you don’t reach the utter heights of literary glory, you might get mashed down into a pit of despair, wallowing in anger at yourself and others, and wondering why you ever wanted to be a writer in the first place.

Self-comparison is a nasty mental and emotional trap to fall into, both in pursuing success as a writer and in fitness. Just look at the standards set up for strength and health in the fitness industry. You’ve got models galore sporting six-pack abs, muscles rippling with veins, biceps bigger than your head, and perfect tans that never saw a glimmer of actual sunlight to freckle their flawless skin. How could anyone possibly compare with that? Yet these are the people we’re told day-in and day-out should be our role models. They are the ideal, and if you don’t match them, you’re a failure.

It’s no wonder so many people dive into a workout and eating routine, only to give up on it a week or two later because they aren’t seeing such drastic results. Here’s the deal. Those fitness models? They’ve got a few things tipping the odds of achieving such enhanced bodies in their favor.

  • Genetic Lottery: Yes, genetics. Everyone is born with a certain genetic potential as far as how strong they can get, how easily they gain and lose weight, and where their metabolic rates tend to level out. Some people are able to eat with abandon and their metabolism naturally burns off calories at a much higher rate. Some people have an incredibly difficult time making weight stick, and so struggle to gain muscle. Achieving a fitter, stronger, healthier body does still take work, but there are those elite few who have a big head start compared to the rest of us.
  • Steroids: Those bodybuilders sporting muscles that would make Ahnold weep? Yup, those don’t come from just good ‘ol pumping iron. It is a fact of the industry that if you want to compete as a bodybuilder or boost beyond your natural capacity as a powerlifter, you’ve got to employ steroids. After all, if everyone else is doing it, you stand no chance of matching their performance unless you get on the juice as well. Usually this is done with human growth hormone. A great documentary on the bodybuilding and steroid/supplement industry is the Bigger, Stronger, Faster film. Highly recommended.
  • Day Job: Even if a fitness model eschews steroids and goes all natural in their workouts, recognize this: it’s their job. Much, if not all, of their life revolves around maintaining a peak physique. Their schedule revolves around their workouts, their eating regimen, and their recovery times. They are professionals who do this for a living…and yet they are the “standards” set for those of us who have lives outside of a gym or photoshoot.

As writers, none of us are ever going to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling. They came to their success through unique routes and circumstances we can’t force ourselves to replicate. Instead, we have to forge our own definition of what it means to be a successful writer on our own terms—being the best “you” you can be, rather than defining yourself in the context of someone else. In the same way, it’s doubtful any of us will be taking home a Mr. Olympia trophy home anytime soon, even if we quit our jobs to live in a gym and start taking steroids. Our fitness and health goals should built around our needs and passions, rather than letting ourselves be defined by them.

Has there ever been a time where you compared all your efforts and accomplishments against other more accomplished people? Has that measurement ever been demoralizing rather than inspiring?